“IT’S OKAY IF YOU CAN’T MAKE IT today. You need to rest if you’re still not feeling well.” Gage’s hand trailed down my back.
I met his eyes in the mirror before pulling the toothbrush from my mouth and spitting into the sink. Did he hear me get sick this morning? I had tried to cover it with the water from the shower.
I rinsed with mouthwash and spit again, then rose back up to look at him. “I want to go. I’m all right.”
A frown pulled at his lips and he crossed his arms, watching me. There were questions in his eyes, and I braced myself, knowing I couldn’t lie if he asked direct.
“You’re going to the doctors this morning?” His mind was working, and I prayed he wouldn’t piece the clues together just yet. Not until I had a chance to piece together the ones surrounding him.
I nodded, leaning on the counter behind me.
“Good, maybe they can check you out and get you medicine. You should get the flu shot while you’re there.”
The corner of my mouth lifted. “It’s not that type of doctors.”
“What, woman don’t get sick? Woman doctors should cover this stuff, too.” His lips curled in a smile as he stepped close and kissed my forehead. “Go to one of those walk in places after if your doctors can’t help. It’s going on three days now, you need to make sure you’re okay, especially with your fight coming up. I’m sure your coach agrees with me.”
He puffed a laugh. “Agreeable today.” He pressed his palm to my forehead and cheeks. “Maybe you’re sicker than I thought.”
I smacked away his touch, trying to step away. “Shut up. I can be agreeable when you make sense.”
“Hmm.” He pulled me back to him by my hip. “I like when you get rough with me.” His voice was deep and raspy, but a thread of teasing ran through it.
I laughed as I turned into him. “What is with you this morning? Maybe you’re the one coming down with something.” I liked this lighter, happier side of Gage, but it made it even harder to speak up. I didn’t want to be the one to take it away.
“Everything.” He shook his head, arms wrapping around my waist, voice dropping. “It’s you. Spending the evening with you last night, even just lying together.” His hands slid up my back. “I needed that. I feel recharged, better than ever.” He kissed along my forehead, lips spreading to a smile. “I feel like I could go take over the world.”
The words circled my heart, warming me, but my secret had a tighter hold, strangling me. I pulled away, trying to keep the teasing tone. “That wasn’t me. That was sleep. You haven’t been getting enough.”
He had taken off yesterday to spend the evening with me at home, sabotaging my plans of going to the club with him. But I used not feeling well as an excuse to just lie in bed watching movies, barely talking. I couldn’t talk, everything I said felt like a lie, a missed opportunity to admit the truth. I was a hypocrite and it was eating at me. After today, I would tell him. I had to. But that made me more nauseous than the lie.
His fingers lifted my chin, making me look at him, all humor gone. “No, it wasn’t. It’s you. You’re the best thing in my life, and I need you. Don’t doubt that.”
I nodded, shaky as emotion choked me.
He pressed a gentle kiss to my lips. “Now go to the doctors, and then come home and rest so you can get better. I’ll pick you up later to look at spaces. We’re meeting the realtor at three o’clock.”
I nodded again and he smiled.
“I like this agreeable Regan. Can we keep her?”
I shoved him away and went to get dressed. His laughter followed me.
The doctor sat in her chair, rolling in it till she was in front of me. Her silence was freezing, even if her eyes were warm. In fact, those eyes cut the most.
“Regan, you were late scheduling this shot, but you knew that, didn’t you?”
I nodded, voice not working.
The corners of her mouth lifted to a tentative smile. “Your urine sample came back with high levels of HCG. Typically a sign of pregnancy.”
“Typically, so I may not be?” I didn’t allow myself to hope one way or the other till she answered.
“Well, no. You more than likely are. There’s other things that can cause those numbers, but that’s not likely. I was just trying to ease you into the news.” She shrugged one shoulder with a light, nervous laugh.
I closed my eyes and dropped my head, letting it all sink in. Now someone else knew, it wasn’t just my secret and that made it real.
“Can you lie back so I can check you out real quick.” Her voice was so soft and gentle. She’d probably make a good mom. She probably was a good mom.
I wasn’t even a good person. How could I be a good mom? I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. Not when I couldn’t even take care of myself enough to keep from getting pregnant.
Her gloved hands pressed low on my stomach. She folded back the top of my pants to press even lower. I watched as she moved her hands to the side where my jagged, silvery pink scar was from Damien’s blade.
“Does this hurt?” She questioned, voice level.
I shook my head, still numb.
She unfolded the band of my pants and pulled my shirt back down. “All done.” She extended her hand to mine to help me sit up.
Rolling on her chair, she glided to where a computer was in the corner and clicked on the keys till my name was at the top of the screen, all my information under it. She used the mouse to scroll down and then typed some things in.
“When was your last period?” She asked, sliding her glasses down to look at me.
I shrugged. “A couple months ago.”
She glanced at the screen. “Oh right, you’ve been getting the depo shot, so those things are hard to go by. Well let’s see…” She clicked over a couple of tabs, nodding as she read. “Oh good it’s open. Come with me, Regan.”
I dropped off the table, legs shaky, stomach spinning, and heart faltering. Every step made this more real.
We walked into the hall and she approached a nurse at a large desk. “I need a gown for Mrs. Lawson here. Can you get her one, and show her to room 203.”
The nurse reached to the side of the table and grabbed a package. Then she came around the desk to me.
“Rachel will take you to the room. I’ll be there in one moment.” She raised her eyebrows at me like this was something to look forward to.
I followed Rachel to a room down the hall. She flipped on the lights, illuminating machines with screens and an exam table in the center, set up like a reclining chair.
“It’s not really a gown.” Rachel tore the clear plastic wrap on the thin package she held. “You should undress from the waist down and lay this on top of you.” She handed me the blue folded paper cloth, then flashed a smile and left the room, closing the door behind her.
My heart was fluttering in my chest like it could float away, making me dizzy. My shaky limbs fumbled as I took off my pants and underwear. I didn’t want to do this. Dread pulled on me as I looked at the monitors. I wasn’t ready to see anything, but I couldn’t stop it. I just needed to get through this moment.
Sitting on the table, I kept my thoughts empty, staring straight ahead like I was in a trance. Until the door clicked open. I jumped at the sound, at the meaning. The doctor was here, and I had to face this.
“It’s fortunate we had a cancelation. You usually have to make these appointments weeks in advance.” She moved to the machine and put on gloves, unwrapping tools that didn’t look like they should be used on humans. She arranged these things on a tray at her side. “Lie back for me.”
I did, staring at the ceiling as she lifted the sheet at my waist.
“This might be cold, I didn’t get to warm the gel first, sorry.”
Something slid between my legs, filling me, and then the screen to my right lit up with waves of nothing.
She rotated the thing she held in me, the waves on the screen changing to dark and light spots. “All right, now we’re getting somewhere.” She shifted again. “See that little bean like thing on the screen? That’s a baby.”
My heart stopped. I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the screen, although a part of me was screaming not to look. I could see it. I think.
“And it’s got a nice strong heartbeat.” She moved her free hand to the screen, pointing to the light that flickered fast and constant. “Right there. Amazing, right?” She sounded in awe, even if she saw these things everyday.
Tears were building behind my eyes, my heart cracking and crumbling. This should be amazing. It was amazing. This baby didn’t deserve to be inside me, it deserved someone better. Someone who would put it at the center of every decision.
“Everything looks healthy. You’re measuring at eight weeks, two days.”
My breath stopped. “Eight weeks.”
“Yes, let me print this for you and then we’ll figure out that due date.” She clicked a button and the whir of the printer started. Then she pulled the long wand from me and handed me a wipe. “Go ahead, clean up and get dressed. I’ll be right back in to talk.” She stood, reaching to the printer behind her. “Oh and here you go. Congratulations, your first picture.” She smiled, oblivious to, or ignoring, my panic.
I sat in the car out back of the club, trying to build the courage to go in. I gripped the thin photo in my hand, trying to keep firm on my decision. This baby, because it was a baby, with a heartbeat—It was my baby—deserved to be put first.
The epiphany came the moment the doctor left and I stared at the photo. I had been selfish in my thoughts, only caring about what I had with Gage, how our life would change. But there was a life growing in me that needed someone to put it first. It had to be me; I didn’t trust anyone else to do it. And this was one of those times that defined a person. I needed to be strong and make good choices for this baby that couldn’t protect itself. June would be here before I knew it. I needed to start now.
The picture was burning a hole in my pocket as I walked into the club. I had to let Gage know.
A few cleaners moved around the main room, one mopping floors, the other wiping down tables, another buffing the poles.
“Hi Regan,” A bubbly voice called from the bar, one of the girls lining up bottles and restocking needed items. “We need more oranges, the last batch have gone moldy.” She held up a net bag filled with the orange fruit.
“All right.” I nodded, not wasting time to pause and talk as I made my way to Gage’s office.
His door opened and he slid out, eyes widening for a split second when they landed on me. His smile was quick to follow as he pulled the door shut behind him. “I thought I was going to meet you later? You’re supposed to be at home.”
He must have seen something in my face because his smile dropped as he approached me, and he brushed my arm. “Did you just leave the doctors? Is everything okay?”
I couldn’t suck in breath to speak the words I needed to say, but I nodded, looking around the room. “We need to talk.”
His brows slammed down and he gripped my arm. “What’s wrong?”
I pulled from his hold, escaping to his office before the tears started. I didn’t want others to see me cry.
“Wait,” He called to me, his hand re-gripping my arm just as I opened the door.
I almost folded over as Cherry and Ian’s head popped up from leaning over the coffee table. The white powder lines in front of them burned into my vision, but Cherry’s smile sparked anger.
Gage pulled me back to look at him. “I didn’t—”
I spun, charging back in the office. “Get the hell out,” I directed to the two on the couch, pointing my finger out the door.
Ian popped up, folding the case he had the drugs laid on.
Cherry sat back, wiping her nose with a giggle. “Give me a minute.” She fluffed her hair, pulling the long strands over one shoulder and then wiping her fingers under her eyes.
I stepped to her, jaw clenched. “Get. Out. Now.”
Ian stepped in between and Gage’s arm slipped around my waist, pulling me back.
“Listen to her. Leave.” Gage spoke from behind me.
She stood with a strange, tight smile on her red lips. “Fine.” She walked around the three of us, eyeing me with a laugh as she passed. “So touchy. I’ve got to go check on things anyways.”
Ian followed her, pulling her from the door and shutting it as she turned back in to add. “Have fun, Gage.”
Her cackle could be heard from the other side as Ian said something about her being crazy.
I stood in the middle of the office, looking from him to the now empty coffee table, about to erupt.
“Let me explain.”
I shoved his chest as he got close to me. “Explain what? That quitting’s so fucking hard? That you’re trying? That you’ll do better next time?”
His hands were quick to grab me again, gripping each of my shoulders. “I didn’t use.”
I struggled in his arms, not caring what he said.
“Listen to me,” his voice was loud and sharp, breaking through my anger with a jerk of my body. “Look at me,” he said softer, and I met his eyes. “I didn’t use. I didn’t. I left them here to do that on their own. You saw that. I was leaving when you got here.”
I looked him over. He looked clear-eyed and focused, professional in his dark slacks and button up.
“I didn’t use. I’d tell you if I did. I told you, I’m trying to be honest with you.”
“I hate her.” There was my honesty.
He nodded, pulling me into his arms. “I know. And soon I won’t be anywhere near her. In the meantime, I’ll deal with her as little as possible.” His hands moved up and down my back. “Trust me.”
I did trust him. But it didn’t matter, this all just reinforced what I had been thinking, what I knew. This wasn’t any sort of life for a baby.
My hands went to my pocket, gripping the secret I was keeping. I pulled the thin picture out. It shook as I pressed it to his chest, and my tears blurred my eyes as my heart dropped to my stomach.
He let me go, his hand soft as he took the photo from me, his brows creasing as he looked at it. Then he looked back up at me, eyes wide with questions and my answers tumbled out.
“If it were only about me, I’d stick by you. I love you so much; I’d stay through anything. But…” my hand lifted to the picture in his hand. “It’s not just me anymore. I’m pregnant.” The words were wrapping around my lungs, squeezing them, killing the determination in them. Killing me. I spoke faster to get it all out. “I’m eight weeks. And I’ve got to put my baby first. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t be in this. The drugs and violence. My baby—”
“Stop talking.” He was looking at the photo, grip tight, lines deep as his jaw flexed.
I swallowed and silence settled over us.
But I needed to say the one thing I should have started with. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean for—”
“Enough.” His blue eyes blazed into me. “I said, stop talking.”
He took a deep breath and stepped towards me, holding the picture out. “This isn’t your baby. It’s our baby.”
My breath released in a shudder, his words taking some of the weight in the pit of my stomach. Tears escaped down my cheek, but I didn’t dare let myself give in completely.
“This isn’t something you need to apologize to me for. This is something we did. Our baby. We decide. Together. You don’t get to make these decisions on your own. So stop talking, because I know what you were saying. But this isn’t a time for you to run off on your own because that’s our baby, and I will be there for it. For you.” He stepped towards me, fingertips hesitant on my stomach as he breathed, “Our baby.”
When he lifted his eyes to mine, they were no longer clear but shiny with emotion and uncertainty. “I’m going to be a good father Regan. Let me. Promise me.”
I couldn’t and he saw that. He dropped his hands, stepping back, hurt lining his eyes and face.
“I’m scared,” I forced the words out. His pain hurt me, making me speak. “I don’t want to do this without you. But—” I took short gasps, not wanting to think about leaving. “How?”
He shook his head. “We’ll figure that out together. Together, Regan. Say it.”
His hands cupped my face, thumbs brushing away my tears. “I’ll keep you both safe. I promise. Please.”
His warm touch and soft plea washed away the weak resolve I had come in with. I never had a chance of leaving him, my heart beat for him, and he owned my soul. A baby didn’t change that, it was proof of it.